In search of Dracula

Transylvania. When I say it chances are one picture sprung to your mind. A dark and stormy night with voluminous clouds pieced by flashes of lightening. In the distance a structure perches on an outcrop of rock. The structure has tall pointed towers, perhaps a moat and drawbridge and definitely specks fluttering around its tallest tower. Are they birds? No- bats. If you say ‘Transylvania’ the next word that comes to most people’s minds is Dracula.

Dracula’s coffin came with us on our van!

For us this was true also. We had already named the black box on top of our van ‘Draculas’ coffin and one of our days was to be dedicated to chasing this elusive entity in several castles. On our fourth day in Romania we were starting in Brasov and driving to Sinaia to visit Peles Castle, next a longer drive to Bran castle (the supposed castle that Draculas was based on) and ending the night in Targu Mures.
First of all we asked ourselves ‘how real was Dracula?’ It gets thrown around that a man called Vlad Tepes was the original that the monster was based on but how true is that? Vlad ruled in the middle of the 1400’s in an area of the Balkans which was then called Wallachia. Tepes (pronounced ‘tep-esh’) meant ‘the impaler’ so he was Vlad the impaler to his people, so called because of his distinctive style of killing his opponents.  Eeeew.


Vlad’s bust standing in Bucharest’s old town

He was a national hero, and is still recognised as one today. His bust stands in the centre of Bucharest and all Romanians it seemed regard him as a figure of great historical importance – his greatest accomplishment was pushing back the encroaching ottoman Turks from the boarders of Romania and maintaining independence and sovereignty.

So we can see he is a little blood thirsty (who wasn’t in those days?) but essentially he is a good guy fighting for his people. So where is the connection to the monster?

Well Vlad’s father was part of the order of the dragons and it was passed down to his son. ‘Vlad Dracula’ Drac= dragon. Ula= son of. Vlad son of the dragon. Interestingly, the same word in Romanian was used for dragon as devil. It is also possible his name can be translated as ‘the son of the devil’.

Peles Castle in Sinaia, we spent so long exploring here we missed out on Bran Castle!

Bram Stoker the author of Dracula never visited Romania however it was an area from which a lot of ghoulish stories were coming from at the time. During Bram’s time the Balkans were an area still stuck in the Middle Ages and therefor connected to many dark and backwards stories. It is possible that Bram found out about Vlad from a few sources, there are some books of Transylvanian history it is agreed he read and he also knew a Hungarian professor who could have passed on the information. It’s important to note that whilst the names of the people and places might be able to be connected together, Bram seems to have made up the blood sucking character entirely by himself. There are no connections to Vlad Tepes ever turning in to a bat, being scared of garlic or having a penchant for sucking peoples necks.

What we saw of Bran Castle

As for Bran castle – whilst the owners may claim it as the home of Dracula, it is thought that The only time that Vlad spent here was 2 months in its dungeons. However the owners will also be quick to point out the striking similarities between Bran castle and the etchings of Draculas residence at the begining of Bram’s book. A tenuous connection at best.

The markets surrounding the castle are full of vampire-ific wares and the myth of it’s connection is definitely being played upon strongly here, which is fun. But to be taken with a pinch of salt.

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